The Cincinnati Reds have one of the top farm systems in baseball. It’s led by a group of players close to the big leagues, or in some cases already there. Matt McLain has been on fire since joining the Reds two weeks ago. Elly De La Cruz is the top prospect in the game and the talk of baseball despite not even being in the big leagues yet. Christian Encarnacion-Strand has 13 home runs and is hitting .341 in 31 games for Louisville. We could keep going, but you get the point – there’s plenty to like within the system at the top.
But in less than a week there’s going to be a new group of prospects that are getting on the field in games that count for the first time this year. On Monday the Dominican Summer League and the Arizona Complex League seasons will begin. Two years ago at this time there was a prospect that seemingly came out of nowhere, who was on just about no ones radar, and was the talk of extended spring training and after just two weeks in the Arizona Complex League was promoted to Single-A Daytona after making a mockery of the league. That player was Elly De La Cruz, and well, he’s never looked back.
While what Elly De La Cruz did then isn’t something you should ever expect to see again, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty to look forward to starting next week. And one prospect out in Arizona is already catching eyes and earning some praise. Zach Buchanan, who used to cover the Reds here in Cincinnati, now is one of the lead prospect writers at The Athletic. In a piece he published this morning he had notes from a scout on 18-year-old Carlos Sanchez.
This isn’t a case where Carlos Sanchez is coming out of nowhere to those who follow the farm system. As a 17-year-old he hit .355/.506/.442 in the Dominican Summer League last year with 40 walks and 28 strikeouts in 46 games. He also stole 14 bases. While not a big-dollar signing in January of 2022, he was a big time performer and the tools showed better than expected from when he signed.
While the scout incorrectly stated that Sanchez was exclusively an outfielder last season (he played 27 games in right field and another 18 at third base), he notes that Sanchez has been playing shortstop this spring out in Arizona. That’s interesting on a few different levels. First is that last year at third base Sanchez was very bad. He made 11 errors in 18 games and posted a .788 fielding percentage.
As I wrote back in January about Sanchez – he’s got plenty of arm strength. The issue wasn’t that he couldn’t make the throw from third base, it was just a matter of accuracy and consistency. We also need to remember that he was basically the age of a high school junior and so was his first baseman most days, so it’s likely that over time some of those errors would go away simply because of a better first baseman and better fields. With that said, there needs to be a big improvement on the defensive front. It’s not rare to see that happen from 17-year-olds as they continue to get reps, practice, and game experience.
It will be interesting to see how much time at shortstop he winds up getting during the games out in Arizona. The reason for that is because Ricardo Cabrera also plays shortstop. He was the top signing in 2022, ranking third overall in the entire class by multiple publications, and was arguably the top international signing by the Reds in decades (non-Cuban professional division).
Cabrera got out to a terrible start to his career. During the first month he hit .120/.274/.200. It was about as bad a start as you could imagine for a guy who was so highly touted. But when July began it was like a light switch was flipped and everything improved. From the start of July through the end of the season he hit .314/.403/.461 and looked like the player everyone had expected to see.
Another player to keep an eye on who will be in Arizona is Esmith Pineda. One of the top signings last year by the Reds, he only had a chance to play in 15 games before an injury cost him the rest of the season. In those 15 games, though, he crushed the ball for the DSL Reds. In his 57 plate appearances he hit .367/.456/.592 with three home runs – leading the team despite just over two weeks of play. The outfielder also had seven walks with just nine strikeouts. Hopefully we’ll get to see more of him on the field this summer than we did last year.
If we head down to the Dominican Summer League it’s tougher to really point at past performance because most of the guys there will be making their professional debuts. But there’s one guy that stands out among the crowd and it’s catcher Alfredo Duno. He, like Cabrera the year before, was among the best prospects in the entire signing class in baseball. Duno got the largest signing bonus given by the Reds to a non-Cuban professional on the international side of signings ever.
The catcher is a potential 5-tool player. Usually the speed keeps catchers from being 5-tool guys, but Duno is fast despite being 6′ 2″ and 210 lbs. He’s got a big time arm behind the plate. At the plate he shows off excellent bat speed and plenty of raw power that he could tap into down the line.
The other player to keep an eye on early in the season is probably Alfredo Alcantara. He was the next biggest signing from the organization back in January. A shortstop with solid defensive tools, he’s also shown some ability at the plate. You never really know how it’ll go until the games get going, but the scouting reports are good here.